Saturday, December 31, 2016

In no way alarmed - Philippians 1:28-30

"in no way alarmed by your opponents — which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God. For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me." (Philippians 1:28-30)
The early church was often under the constant threat of persecution. Waves of persecution would wash over the church bring imprisonment, torture, and martyrdom to many. Here, Paul is not talking about people who just don't like us, he is speaking of those who oppose us, and threaten us, because of our faith. Paul is urging the Philippian church to stand strong in the face of persecution; to not be quickly moved to fear by the oppressive forces around them. The way we respond to persecution and oppression has a lot to say about who we are and who they are who seek to persecute us. If we respond in fear or like aggression then we prove ourselves to be just as they are. However, if we respond in faith, showing the confidence and peace that faith brings to us in times of difficulty, then we demonstrate ourselves to better than them, not because we ourselves are better, but because the hope and foundation of our lives are better than that upon which their lives are built. Furthermore, we prove that our confession of Christ is real and His promise of salvation is true. Our faith and confidence are evidence that what God has spoken is true and that, no matter how great the persecution that awaits us, our hope of deliverance and eternal life is greater than any persecution that can come our way. In the end, our faith and confidence in Christ are evidence that those who seek to destroy us are not fighting against us but against God and, those who fight against God, do so to their own destruction.

In our own human understanding, it does not appear to be any great reward that we are granted the privilege to suffer for Christ's sake. However, when we suffer, it is not because we have done anything wrong, on the contrary, it is because God has found us worthy of His suffering. As such, it is an honor and a privilege to suffer for Christ. It is said of the Apostles, after having been beaten and released from Jail, that they rejoiced "that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name." (Acts 5:41) Persecution and suffering are not times for fretting, fear, or despondency but rather for rejoicing that God has found us worthy to suffer for Him. Jesus said, "Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matthew 5:11-12) Persecution is evidence of the new creature, one who is worthy of this new life, that God has remade us to be.

Finally, Paul reminds them that he too has suffered, and is suffering, the same things as they are suffering. When facing trials, sufferings, and persecutions, it is tempting to think that we are the only ones who are suffering, It is easy to feal alone in our suffering, thinking that no one else knows or understands what we are going through. However, this is not the case. The sufferings we experience are common to all believers. Paul promised us that, "all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." (2 Timothy 3:12) The truth that we are not alone in our suffering ought to encourage us and give us hope in our suffering, It also should cause us to consider how we endure our own suffering, knowing that others are watching. We ought to suffer in a way to give the same kind of hope and encouragement as Paul's confident suffering did for the Phillipian church. We all suffer, but let us suffer in a way that brings honor to God and hope to those around us,

David Robison

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Conduct yourselves - Philippians 1:27

"Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel." (Philippians 1:27)
True integrity is found in how we behave when no one is looking. It is one thing to behave right when someone is watching over us, but it is another to live right when no one is watching and where no one can see. It is in these hidden places where the truth of who we are is revealed.

The grace of God has come to change us, not superficially, but at the very center of who we are. Jeremiah prophesied, "'But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,' declares the Lord, 'I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people'" (Jeremiah 31:33) Herein lies the difference between law and grace. The law can only affect us externally; it only controls us to the extent to which we remain in relationship to the law. Once we are out from under the law we revert to our old habits of sin and selfishness. How many times have we seen where young adults leave the domain of their parents for college only to give themselves to licentious and prodigal living? How many times have we seen where someone leaves a very legalistic church only to be found more bound to sin than ever before? The law tells us to be good on Sunday and when everyone else is watching, but when we are out from under the purview of the law, sin runs rampant.

The law can never change us in the secret place, that place where no one else sees us but God. Only the grace of God can change us and save us from ourselves. Paul wrote of God's grace, "For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age." (Titus 2:11-12 NKJV) When we listen to the law, we merely learn new external behaviors, but when we listen to the grace of God, we learn new ways of living. It is God's grace that not only instructs us how to live but also produces those changes within us as well.

The word Paul uses here that is translated as "conduct" is a derivative of the Greek word "polites" which is akin to our word "politics" and has reference to a citizen or town's person. This word for conduct has to do, not only with how we behave as an individual, but how we live as a citizen with other citizens. Our conduct is not merely a private matter but is also to be viewed in a larger corporate sense. It not only refers to our private thoughts and secret habits but also has bearing on how we related and live to others. Furthermore, it carries with it a sense of duty. Each of us has a duty, as citizens of God's kingdom, to live in right relationship and cooperation with other citizens of the Kingdom. Here, specifically, Paul mentions our duty to ensure the unity of faith, purpose, and love. As citizens, we have a corporate responsibility to one another and to the common purpose and faith that binds us together as fellow citizens. We no longer live to ourselves alone but also for the greater good of the Kingdom to which we belong. Our integrity is not only individual integrity but integrity to our duties as citizens. It requires a larger view of life that includes others besides ourselves.

David Robison

Monday, December 26, 2016

To live is Christ - Philippians 1:21-26

"For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith, so that your proud confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again." (Philippians 1:21-26)
This is a curious statement, "to live is Christ." Here, Paul equates a verb with a noun. It would be like saying, "to drive is Henry Ford" or, "to eat a burger is McDonald." According to the conventional rules of grammar, this statement makes no sense. So what does Paul mean by this statement? Speaking of his relationship with Christ, Paul says, "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me." (Galatians 2:20) Paul understood that to live on in the flesh was to accept the calling to die daily to ourselves that Christ might live His life through us. To live requires our dying while to die brings us into eternal life. To live means to let Christ live through us.

Paul contrasts the gain that is to be ours in our death with the gains the world has to offer us in this life. Speaking of those worldly gains, Paul says, "But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ." (Philippians 3:7-8) Paul realizes that the gains of this world are not to be compared with the gains that are to be ours in the resurrected life. There are those who live for the reward of earthly gains only to forfeit to themselves those gains which are of true value, eternal value, and that are with God in heaven. Jesus said, "For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Matthew 16:25-26) True riches, true gain, and true life is found when we are willing to lose our life for Christ's sake; when we are willing to set aside our will, plans, and purposes that we might take up Christ's will and purpose; that His life, plan, and purpose might be expressed and worked through us here in this life. Those who are willing to lose their life for Christ's sake will find it in abundance in Christ.

Paul was in prison and he understood that there were two possible outcomes to his imprisonment: one was his release and the other his death. So which would he choose if the choice was up to him? It is interesting that Paul thought it hard to chose between the two possible outcomes. For most people, the clear choice would be to live. However, Paul was not so sure that was the best choice. Only those who have the hope and confidence of eternal life in the presence of God could ever view death as gain. Paul understood the reality of the life that was awaiting him upon his death. For him, living had no real gain beyond what he already had, yet his death would bring the realization of everything he had hoped for and lived for all his life. Therefore, why remain in this life while there awaited him so much gain upon his death? The only reason that Paul could consider life as an advantage was because he was looking towards the gain his continued life would bring to others. It was only by considering the needs of others that his desire to live could outweigh his desire to depart this life. This is the lesson for us today. It is only by seeing the gain our lives can bring to others that our life on this Earth gains meaning and purpose.

Paul understood that the purpose of his life was to serve others. It was this knowledge, that there was so much more for him to do and to accomplish for the faith of others, that Paul was confident of his release and his continued labor in this life. It is interesting that Paul sees his mission as not only encouraging the growth and progress in the faith of believers but also in helping them to grow and continue in joy. Some people see themselves as the policemen of the body. They are always running around telling others what they are not doing right and what they ought to do. Paul, however, was running around encouraging people to continue in the faith and to live with joy. What good is faith if it doesn't also bring joy?

Finally, Paul expected his release so that God might use the example of his life to embolden the faith and confidence of the Galatians. They had been praying for Paul's release. They had been believing for his freedom. Paul's hope was that by his release the faith of the Galatians would be encouraged and their confidence in God established. Paul's hope for his release was not his own, it was for the benefit and encouragement it would bring to those who were praying and believing for his release. Paul's life was a life spent for others. May we too live such a live.

David Robison

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Earnest expectation and hope - Philippians 1:19-20

"for I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death." (Philippians 1:19-20)
Paul was in a difficult place. In his imprisonment, things were happening around him that were outside of his control. However, Paul was not without hope nor despondent due to his circumstances. Paul had confidence that he would soon be delivered from his chains. The Greek word Paul uses that is translated here as "deliverance" is more frequently is translated as "salvation." This brings to light the depth of the meaning in this one Greek word. Our salvation in Christ affects more than our eternal destination. It provides salvation for the whole of our existence. Such salvation includes our healing, wholeness, deliverance, protection, and provision. This was the kind of salvation that Paul was confident that would be his even in his imprisonment.

For what reason did Paul have such confidence in his salvation? From two sources; the prayers of the saints and the supply of the Holy Spirit. God is sovereign. He does whatever He desires and prohibits whatever He chooses. However, God has chosen to allow Himself to be moved by the prayers of His people. It is through prayer that we get to partner with God in His purpose and His work in the Earth and in each other. Our call to prayer is an invitation from God to join with Him in His redemptive and saving work in and around us. Our prayers and the provision of the Spirit are the catalyst for God in our lives.

For this reason, Paul's faith produced in him an earnest expectation and hope in the will and plan of God. Thayer defines the Greek word translated here as "earnest expectation" as "to look forth from one's post." Vine adds that it carries the idea of being absorbed in watching for and expecting something or someone. Paul's eye was upon his salvation; he was absorbed in watching for and expecting God's deliverance in his life. Instead of being filled with dread, fear, or despondency in his imprisonment, he was filled with the knowledge that God was working in his life and the expectation of God's salvation yet to come. The Greek word for "hope" can also mean to "anticipate." Paul was not just hoping for deliverance, he already anticipated it and was planning what he would do once he was delivered from prison. So confident was his hope, that he already made plans for what he would do once he was released. This is true confidence, expectation, and hope.

However, Paul's hope was not just for the future, he had hope for the here and now. While Paul fully expected to be released from jail through the prayers of the saints and the help of the Holy Spirit, he had hope in God's salvation even while he sat in jail. Paul's hope and confidence was that God would enable him to be a testimony for Christ whether in prison or out. If God's plan for him meant prison, then he was confident that he would be a witness for Christ in prison. If it meant freedom, then he would witness in freedom. Paul believed that in every circumstance of his life, God would and should be exalted.

Paul's hope was that he would not be put to shame, but what shame is he referring to? The shame of falling short of the will and purpose of God for his life. Paul had a mission from God. This mission was more that that of an apostle but also that of a believer; a mission that included bring glory and honor to Christ through every aspect and condition of his life. Paul's shame was to somehow come short of that lofty goal. However, Paul was confident in God that, through His help, he would be more than enough to meet the challenges of life and to fulfill the purpose of God for his life. Paul believed that God would provide boldness when he needed it and deliverance, even from prison, when he needed it, Paul believed that God would provide everything he needed to fulfill God's will for his life and it was this confidence that sustained him even in the hard times. Let us also have this faith in God that, whether in death or life, we too may honor God in everything we do.

David Robison

Saturday, December 10, 2016

whether in pretense or in truth - Philippians 1:15-18

"Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice." (Philippians 1:15-18)
Imagine this, that someone in your church or community that is being used by God to preach the Gospel, is arrested and imprisoned. Would you step in to fill the void and to take up the mantle and be the one to continue their work; the work of preaching and spreading the Gospel? Is so, why?

This is what happened to Paul. He was imprisoned for preaching the Gospel and, in his confinement, others came forward to take his place and to take up the ministry left undone by him. However, not everyone did so out of the same motive. Some, out of love and respect for Paul, stepped forward to continue his work and to follow his example. They did it, at least in part, to stand with Paul; to show that they too loved God and were committed to the same cause as Paul. They showed their solidarity and their agreement with Paul, his ministry, and his Gospel. However, others did so out of competition. They entered the fray, not to show solidarity with Paul, but to finally have their day in the sun. This was their chance. All the time they spent in the shadows while Paul got all the glory; this was their chance to shine. Their resentment for the the ministry and notoriety that Paul enjoyed was now free to express itself, now that he was out of commission. It was now their turn to show Paul that they too could preach, that they too could shine bright, and that they too were just like Paul.

Out ups and downs, our successes and defeats, and our advancements and retreats are all opportunities that challenge our hearts. When we are advancing, it is easy to become proud and to see our advancement as proof that we are worthy and right. However, our defeats can also breed resentment for those who are winning and advancing. After all, we are just as good as them so why do they get to glory while we are stuck in defeat? I am sure Paul faced these same inward challenges as he lay in prison. So how did Paul fight the temptations towards anger, bitterness, resentment, and judgment? By looking outwardly towards the outcome rather than inwardly at his own personal situation. Paul looked to the advantage that others were bringing to the Kingdom of God, that same Kingdom he had so long proclaimed himself. In the end, it was not his own personal advancement that mattered but the advancement of the Kingdom of God.

Here is the moral of the story. When we focus on ourselves, we give ourselves over to competition, pride, resentment, and judgment. However, when we focus on the Kingdom of God, we see reason to rejoice even in our own personal defeats. We begin to understand that our life and position are secure in God and that what really matters in this life is not who we may seem to be to ourselves and others but the work that God has given each of us to do; a work that benefits the Kingdom and the Body of Christ. The key to surviving success and failure is looking outward to the goal of what our success and failures are driving at. If we can do this then we too, like Paul, can rejoice at the advancement of the Kingdom regardless of the personal motives of those who are seeking to advance it.

David Robison

Monday, December 05, 2016

For the greater progress - Philippians 1:12-14

"Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear." (Philippians 1:12-14)
As the Roman government sought to stamp out Christianity, the more they persecuted it, the more it grew. Thinking to cause a deterrent to others, their imprisonment of Paul actually made other believers more confident and bolder in their defense and proclamation of the Gospel. This reminds me of another story from the scriptures. "Now it came about after this, that war broke out at Gezer with the Philistines; then Sibbecai the Hushathite killed Sippai, one of the descendants of the giants, and they were subdued. And there was war with the Philistines again, and Elhanan the son of Jair killed Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver's beam. Again there was war at Gath, where there was a man of great stature who had twenty-four fingers and toes, six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot; and he also was descended from the giants. When he taunted Israel, Jonathan the son of Shimea, David's brother, killed him. These were descended from the giants in Gath, and they fell by the hand of David and by the hand of his servants." (1 Chronicles 20:4-8)

There was a time when all of Israel shuttered at the sight of the giants of Philistine. None dared approach them, let alone challenge them in battle. However, all of a sudden, it is like it is open season on giants. Everyone and their brother is running around slaying giants, the same giants they used to tremble in fear before. So what changed? David! One man dared to face a giant in the name of the Lord and his bravery and success paved the way for others to take courage and do the same. David killed a giant and everyone else said, "Maybe I can do that too!"

Here is the moral of our story, the way we live our lives affect more than ourselves. Our lives can have a profound effect on those around us. Our lives can either lead others to fear and doubt or they can lead others to courage and action. The example we set can either close the door to others or open wide the door that others may walk through. We must always remember that people are watching us; they are watching to see if what we confess is really true. We say we can "do all things through Him who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13) but does our life bear out the truth of what we confess? When we take up faith and do what we can only do in Christ, then others are encouraged to do the same. When we venture out with courage and do what seems impossible, then the impossible becomes the possible to others. Let us be people who open doors for others. Let us be those who declare a new season of giant slaying. Let us be people who cause others to take up courage and faith and live the life the were meant to live.

David Robison

Saturday, December 03, 2016

And this I pray - Philippians 1:9-11

"And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God." (Philippians 1:9-11)
The Greek idea of "abound" means to be more than enough, having love in excess, and even "super-abounding." Paul's prayer and God's desire for us is that our love would grow to the point where it is not only enough but where it resides in us in excess. Our progress in this Christian life is to be judged by the degree to which our love for God and our love for others continues to grow and abound. Paul reminds us that, "faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love." (1 Corinthians 13:13)

Love is not blind and love does not exist apart from judgment. Love must be a discerning love. Paul prays that as our love grows, so ought it to grow in knowledge and discernment. Not everything is to be loved and not everything is to be praised. The Greek word translated here as "real knowledge" can also be translated "full knowledge." It represents more than a cursory knowledge, it speaks of a knowledge that had been developed and honed to a depth by which we fully understand a subject or idea. Full knowledge takes intentionality in developing. It takes time and effort to search out and understand. Often we live by what we feel or what we imagine rather than by what we have sought out and come to acknowledge as true and right. Furthermore, many times we simply accept as true what we have been taught or what other people think and espouse as being true but we never search for the truth ourselves. We must take the effort to learn and understand truth for ourselves; the truth that is found in Christ, His word, and His kingdom.

The Greek word translated as "discernment" comes from a root word that means to  perceive. It is not enough to have full knowledge, we must also have accurate perception and judgment. Paul writes, "But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil." (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22) Knowledge is not enough, we must also be able to judge between good and evil, clean and unclean, and useful and destructive. Speaking of his own life, knowledge, and perception, Paul writes, "All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything." (1 Corinthians 6:12) It is one thing to have the knowledge that all things are lawful for us, but we must also have the judgment and clear perception of things to understand that somethings are not profitable for us.

The purpose of full knowledge and perception is not so that we might judge the intents and actions of others but that we might judge the intents and actions of ourselves. Knowledge and perception is meant to be a protection for us by allowing us to see and understand those things which are profitable for our lives and those things that are not. Knowledge and perception teach us to love what is good in our life and hate what is in use that is evil. The goal of such love is that we might be pure and blameless at His coming. Love that is built upon knowledge and perception is a love that motivates us to change; to repent from those things that offend God and to adopt those behaviors that are pleasing to Him. It is a love that does not seek to please ourselves but to please God.

Finally, we must remember that all knowledge, perception, and understanding comes from God. Even our willingness, ability, and endurance in the process is a gift from the Holy Spirit who lives in us. This process of growing in love that is built upon knowledge and perception is a process that is owned and initiated by God. Our participation in this process is fueled and sustained by the Holy Spirit within us. And the fruit that is born in our lives comes to us through Jesus Christ who is our hope. While our participation with God is essential in this process, the process begins, is sustained, and ends in Christ. It is only in Christ that we may bear the fruit of rightness which is the result of love that is strengthened upon knowledge and perception.

David Robison